Princeton artist paints portraits of blue-collar African American workers

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A Princeton University artist has created a series of paintings that celebrate African American workers like his father.

A portrait gallery in the Princeton Art Museum is lined with works by past art masters depicting subjects from the highest echelons of American society from the 18th and 19th centuries. But artist Mario Moore decided to create his own portrait in a similar style.

One of the portraits is currently hanging in the museum. It is of Mike Moore (no relation to Mario) who is a security guard at the museum.

“Most of these [18th and 19th Century] pieces were commissioned by these people, right? Really wealthy people, the most prominent people in America at the time commissioned these paintings,” says Moore. “But for me, it’s about the person that you see every day. When you go to a museum or when you go to a mall or wherever you are. Those people are important too, so why don’t we recognized them?”

Moore’s series of oil portraits is not of professors or university presidents, but of those workers whose work makes Princeton function.

There's Garfield Brown of the athletics grounds crew and Clyde Hundley, a custodian. Others show Valeria Sykes, a food service worker, and Jalen Long, a worker at a local restaurant. There are about a half dozen more.

“It was walking up to people I didn't know, introducing myself and telling them about this plan,” Moore says.

These are not people used to sitting for portraits. Moore says that he spent a lot of time getting to know each one. And they got to know him.

“The initial conversation of us just talking. Me talking about myself and me hearing about their stories, allowed it to be more open,” he says.

His portraits were purchased by Princeton University and will be hung around campus as part of a broader effort by the university to make the portraits hanging in the university halls look more like the students walking through them and to celebrate the people whose work allows Princeton function.

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